Kingdom of Priests: Exodus 19:1-9

The following is the manuscript from a recent sermon I delivered at Oasis Community Church.  Some portions are in outline form rather than full manuscript form.  One should have his or her Bible close by while going through the expository section.  The podcast link above is a recording of the actual sermon as delivered.

Introduction: If I were to ask you what the climax of the book of Exodus is, some of you might point to chapter 12 and the tenth plague that leads to the Exodus event.  Others might point to chapter 14 where the sea is parted for the Israelites and Pharaoh meets his watery demise once and for all.  Still others might point to chapter 20 with the giving of the law at Sinai.  While those are all points of high drama in the book of Exodus, I think the climax is actually found at the beginning of chapter 19.  Not only is this the climactic moment of Exodus, I think it is really the climactic moment of the entire OT.


Verses 1-4:

  • You yourselves have seen
    • What I did to the Egyptians;
    • How I bore you on eagle’s wings –
    • Brought you to myself – this was not freedom for freedom’s sake.  The ultimate goal, the ultimate end God had in mind was to bring the people to Himself.
    • Notice that this is all experiential, existential language.  The entire episode is rooted in God’s historical actions.  One of the most common mistakes we make as Christians is removing the legal/moral/ethical requirements of Scripture from their relational/experiential context.  What do I mean by that?  Simply this: Exodus precedes Sinai and the law is embedded in the narrative of God’s actions in human history.When the ACLU wants to remove a display of the Ten Commandments from a courthouse or some other state property, there is usually a rather large outcry from many sectors of the church.  But how meaningful are the commandments when they are removed from the narrative context in which God gave them to us?  (Judge Roy Moore’s display is stripped of even the most basic narrative element).(Illustration: Cahoots lady – we receive state money so you can’t talk about Jesus.   Morality is just a cleaner road to hell!).We tend to make much of performance, while God, on the other hand, makes much of relationship.

Verses 5-6:

  • If you:
    • Diligently obey/hear/listen to my voice – amidst the theological and existential cacophony.  Think about all of the competing voices the people were exposed to in Egypt.
      • Egyptian mythology
      • Their political context as slaves of Egypt
      • Perhaps it was necessary to get the people out of their Egyptian context and into the wilderness before they were able to really hear God’s voice.Have you ever had trouble hearing God’s voice?  Do you think that could be due to the fact that in our culture we are constantly bombarded with noise?  Perhaps when we are having trouble hearing the voice of God, we need to get out of the hectic patterns of our daily lives, out of our normal noisy context and into a different setting, into a place of solitude and silence.A wise man once told me, “The urgent crowds out the important.  The urgent screams, the important whispers.”
  • Keep my covenant – We don’t have time this morning to draw out all of the significance of this term but in Exodus, the covenant between God and Israel shares much in common with a marriage covenant.  In fact, the covenant ratification in chapter 24 looks a lot like a wedding feast.
  • Then you will be:
    • A special/treasured possession – סְגֻלָּה.  Belonging completely and uniquely to God.
    • Kingdom of priests –
      • A new political reality, absolutely unique in the ANE.  Other people groups were organized into kingdoms where power was concentrated in a human king.  But this kingdom would be different.  It would be a kingdom where power is not concentrated in human rulers, but a kingdom that would be ruled directly by God.
      • Echoes the priestly nature of Adam and Eve’s work in the garden.
      • Indicates that they are to function as mediators between God and others.  By grace, they were chosen to receive special revelation and they were to mediate this revelation to the other nations.
  • Holy nation/people – this is the first time in Scripture that holiness is applied to human beings.  Up to this point, it has been used to describe time and the ground, but now it is applied to people.
    • In all actuality, holiness is a quality that is exclusive to God.
    • Holiness is not essentially a matter of doing, but a matter of being.  Authentic doing flows from authentic being.  (1Pt 1:14-16).  Holy is a stative word describing a state of being, like pregnant.  You can’t be a little bit holy any more than you can be a little bit pregnant.
    • The doing is a byproduct of the being, which is essentially the crux of TSOM.  Holiness is exhibited through love for neighbor rather than through separation from neighbor.  Did you know that Jesus never uses the word holy to describe people?  This is likely due to the fact that by the time Jesus was born, the law had been extracted from its narrative context and people were trying to do holy rather than beholy.This seems to be Jesus’ primary criticism of the Pharisees.  In Mt 23 Jesus pronounces seven woes against the Scribes and Pharisees.  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”  I don’t think Jesus ever read How to Win Friends and Influence People J.  But notice what He is saying; He doesn’t challenge the fact that the Pharisees are running around doing things that on the surface appear to be holy, but that their doing is inauthentic.
    • Genuine holiness is the byproduct of a relational encounter with the living God.  Genuine holiness flows out of our love for God, it is exhibited through love for others, and it generates centripetal force.
    • The rest of the OT can really be seen as Israel working out the implications of these two verses over time.  In many respects, the rest of the OT is the chronicle of Israel’s attempt to come to terms with this vocation of being a kingdom of priests and being a holy people.

Verses 7-8:

  • “All the Lord has spoken we will do” – Does this strike you as peculiar?  They have agreed to the covenant without knowing the covenant stipulations.  Isn’t it usually prudent to check out the details before you sign on?

Verse 9: Another experience, not that they would believe God, but that they would believe His prophet.

Conclusion: NT connections: Very nice history, but what does this mean for me?

  • There is no shortage of ethical instruction in the NT.  Paul especially loves to exhort and admonish the church to higher ethical ground.  But have you ever realized that the ethical material in the NT is always embedded in the narrative of what God has done in human history through Christ?  The book of Romans is a perfect example.  The first 11 chapters lay the foundation for the ethical exhortation that begins in chapter 12.  11 chapters of narrative theology is concluded with a hymn of praise and then the ethical implications that accompany God’s historical actions.

1Pt 2:9 – This is profound.  Peter takes God’s words to ancient Israel and applies them directly to the NT church.  Even more profoundly, he does so in a letter that is addressed to Gentiles!  Don’t miss the significance here.  By the time the first century rolled around, Israel had developed a perverse and unbiblical concept of holiness.  This unbiblical concept of holiness resulted in an arrogance that viewed Gentiles as dogs, and viewed Israelites who didn’t exhibit the highest ethical conduct as profane.  An unbiblical view of holiness always results in segregation.

But Peter comes along, grabs the climax of the OT and applies it directly to the church in all its diversity.  He says, no you’re not Gentile dogs; you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.

My friends, by grace we have been called into a new reality.  The Father has resurrected Jesus from the dead and has exalted Him as king!  Through faith in Christ our sins are forgiven and we are incorporated into His kingdom.  Therefore, let us be transformed by God’s grace from the inside out.  May we understand that holiness is not so much about what we do as it is about what God has done.  And may we proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light.


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